The government's decision to deploy three ships to the Middle East was significant for several reasons. As noted in the previous chapter, it was the first Australian warlike operation since the Vietnam War, and there were important political and foreign policy implications. But it was also significant for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN. It was not just that the RAN was likely to be engaged in combat but also that for the first time RAN ships became involved in UN-authorised peacekeeping operations. Until then, all Australian peacekeeping had been performed either by individual officers (mainly Army), or by Army and Air Force units, such as the engineer construction squadrons in Namibia and the helicopter unit in the Sinai. RAN ships had not taken part in peacekeeping operations. Indeed, there seemed to be no role for warships. Traditionally, the United Nations saw peacekeeping as the provision of observers to monitor a previously agreed peace arrangement or ceasefire, although in special circumstances it might have been necessary to deploy formed bodies of troops, lightly armed for self-protection, to stand between the previously warring parties. These peacekeeping missions were almost invariably conducted by Army personnel, supported by air units.
This is, however, an overly narrow view of peacekeeping. It is just as important to prevent the outbreak of wars as to deal with them after they have begun, and in some circumstances the United Nations has authorised the application of sanctions against countries in an effort to persuade them to change their policies.